Unusual Experiences of Mine
by Garr Lystad
I sometimes hear people tell me of unusual or even weird things that happened to them or someone they know. My inclination is to believe them if I know them well. But it is hard to be sure that they remember the event correctly and that they understood what actually happened correctly. And if I don't know them well I can't help but wonder if they really like to tell tall tales or that maybe they're just crazy. The following are unusual things that happened to me. Some are a bit funny or educational, some are simply out of the ordinary, and some are, at the least, odds defying coincidences. I hope none of it seems to be beyond belief because, unless I'm crazy and don't know it, they really happened to me. I remember them all and my long term memory has generally been quite good for over 70 years.
1953 or thereabouts - Back in 1953 people usually burned their paper trash in their back yard. Aside from Los Angeles, air pollution was unknown in California since there were far, far fewer people in California than today, only about 11 million. My dad had built a flagstone barbecue / fireplace in the back corner of our yard and we often burned paper trash in it.
There had been an apricot orchard where our and our neighbors' houses were. Five of the trees were still in each backyard. Behind our yard there was the rest of the large orchard for a few years and then all the trees were torn out to make way for a freeway: Interstate 238. We lived at 1023 Johnson Street. Today a freeway off-ramp is located where our house and yard were, the east end of Johnson Street that connected with Lewelling Blvd. has been removed and Johnson Street has been renamed Morrill Street.
One evening my dad, my brother Dean, and I went out for my dad to burn the paper trash in the outdoor fireplace. It was fairly dark. I was looking at the sky behind us and suddenly I saw a baseball size ball of fire coming over the MacLeods' roof. They were our next door neighbor's to the east. The fireball was headed for the broken up ground where the trees had been, some ways behind our house. The meteor made no sound. We didn't hear any impact and it was too dark to see where or if it hit the ground.
It crossed my mind to go out and look for a meteorite in the torn up ground in the daytime, but the ground was so rough and I didn't know how I would tell a meteorite from any other rock, so I never went to look. I had my doubts too that there was anything to find since we never heard it hit.
I must have been about 60 years old when I was thinking back to seeing the meteor. My dad had died at this point and I wasn't sure if my brother, being no more than 4 at that time, would remember the event. So I asked my mom if she remembered it. She had been in our kitchen at the time but we had gone in and told her about what we had seen. She remembered.
1980's - I don't remember the year. One morning I was driving south on Interstate 35E through Carrollton or Farmers Branch, north of Dallas. It was a clear day and the sky was a bright blue, a beautiful day. Suddenly I saw motion in the sky and looked up to see a bright streak of fire make a short path through the sky. It must have been a meteor hitting the atmosphere and burning up. It didn't even get close to the ground. That's the only meteor I've seen in broad daylight.
2021, August - During a break in the COVID-19 pandemic, my wife and I went to my brother's house to see the Perseids meteor shower. We were all vaccinated and the contagion rate was low at the time. My brother and his wife live about 10 miles outside a small Texas town and the sky is really dark there. It's easy to see the Milky Way on any clear night.
We sat out a couple nights and watched the streaks across the sky. We enjoyed it since they would come along every few minutes and in normal times it's rare to see a "falling star".
The second night we saw one meteor that looked quite different from the rest. It stayed pretty much overhead and looked fuzzy rather than streaking across the sky. It just seemed to wander around very slightly above us. My guess, after some thought, is that it was headed more or less toward us, which is why it didn't appear to move much. The fuzz was probably material coming off of it as it burnt. It burnt itself out but even if it hadn't I'm pretty sure it wouldn't have hit my brother's yard, much less us. It was quite an unusual point of view for watching a meteor.
1958 or thereabouts: - My mom, my brother, and I were on the front walk of our house in Castro Valley, Calif. My mom told us to look up and there above us was the strangest airplane I'd ever seen. It looked to me like a rocket ship from one of Willie Ley's books, which were popular at the time. The fuselage was the shape of a ring sizer, narrow at the front and wider as it went back. There were two small wings in the very front and two large, swept back wings in the back with two jet engines on each back wing. I don't remember hearing any sound from it. It just passed over us silently, which seemed strange at the time too because it didn't appear to be terribly high above us.
Some years later I was watching a program on TV and they were talking about experimental planes, both existing and planned. One of the planned ones was something they called a "Supersonic Transport", or SST. The drawing of it looked just like the strange plane we had seen flying over Castro Valley several years before.
1971 and scrabble - In 1970 I got my bachelor's degree in Physics. That was also the first year that young men were not all shipped off to Vietnam to fight for the "Domino Theory" and American business. Instead, there was a draft lottery in which the days of the year were drawn out of a container one after another. The people born on the first day drawn were the first to get drafted. The people born on the second day to be drawn were right behind them. My birthday was drawn as the 322nd day and in the spring my draft classification was changed from 1-A (prime fodder for the army) to 1-H (draft lottery deferred). So suddenly I was free of both school and the draft, so I decided I should do something to enjoy my freedom. In September I moved to New Hampshire with an acquaintance, a friend by the time we'd lived in N.H. a while. We found jobs and, as we had planned from the beginning, lived there one year and the next September we moved back to California.
In New Hampshire we both worked at New Hampshire Hospital. There is a school of nursing there. One of the student nurses seems to have had some interest in getting to know me better, despite my intent to leave after a year. She liked to play Scrabble and there were many afternoons when we'd play a few games of Scrabble.
One afternoon we were playing and not talking much. The silence seemed just a little uncomfortable to me so I decided to talk. I had just played a six letter word. There wasn't much to talk about except the game so I started off by saying, as I reached for a letter tile, "I need a __." I don't remember any longer exactly which letter I said I needed but I did this six times, once before picking up each tile. Each time I picked up a tile it was the letter I had just named. After placing the sixth tile in my rack I was so amazed by what had just happened that I wanted to show my friend. I turned my tile rack around to face her. That ended the game, of course, but I wanted her to see. She just stared at my tiles and didn't say anything. I think she hadn't been paying any attention to what I had said and didn't know why I was turning my tiles around. I explained. She still didn't say anything.
I don't know what the odds were that the only time in my life that I've named Scrabble tiles before picking them up I would get each one right six times in a row. I think the chances are extremely small since the game had just started and there were still quite a few tiles in the box. I might have subconsciously memorizing the wood grain patterns on the backs of the tiles I named. That seems improbable. It might just be a very unlikely coincidence.
1974 and roulette - I think it's probably a common thing for some families to have favorite games that they play after dinner at family gatherings. When my mother's mother's part of the family got together we would often play roulette. My mother's aunt and uncle had a small roulette wheel and a felt with the numbers on it from zero and double zero up through thirty-six, just as in a real casino. We'd all get a certain number of poker chips and see if we could win more. I was just a kid but I enjoyed it quite a bit. We all did.
My first wife and I got married in the summer of 1974 and spent our honeymoon in a cabin on the north shore of Lake Tahoe. We were on the California side of the state line but there were some small casinos a short drive away in Nevada. I had seen a casino or two in Reno and knew how they attracted customers with inexpensive but wonderful buffets. They had big tables with a huge variety of selections of wonderful food in those days. I told my wife about the meals and suggested one afternoon that we have dinner in one of the North Shore casinos to see if they had something equally amazing to eat.
As we drove to a casino that evening I told my wife that I'd like to take a few minutes to watch the people playing roulette since I'd played the home version often. I wanted to see the real thing. She said that would be fine and she was interested in seeing the craps game, a game of dice. She said she would watch that while I watched the roulette.
When we walked into the casino we encountered the roulette game right away so I stayed there and my wife went off to see the craps game. I'm not a gambler. I had no intention of betting on the game so I didn't change any of my traveler's checks, the only money I had with me, into chips or cash.
After a short time my wife returned. As she walked up to me I suddenly felt I knew what was going to be called for the next number on the roulette wheel and I said to her, "It's going to be red fourteen." I was right. The odds are one in thirty-eight, not difficult odds to occasionally beat, but it does strike me as odd that the one time in my life that I would predict the outcome of a roulette wheel I'd get it right. I wonder too what it was that prompted me to feel that I knew the next winning number in the first place.
It's a bit odd too that I'd have said “red fourteen” instead of just fourteen. There's only one fourteen on the table. It seems, looking back on it, that I was not predicting what was going to happen as much as I was predicting what was going to be announced as the winner.
We didn't watch the roulette game any more after red fourteen was announced as the winner. We went to the restaurant in the casino, had a dinner that was good but not spectacular, and after that went right back to our rented cabin. We didn't watch roulette or craps any more that evening or at any other time during our marriage. Despite that fact, back in 1974 when I told people about my red fourteen prediction, as I finished, my ex-wife would add to my story. She would say, “And later that same evening I predicted black twenty-six and that's what it was.” This certainly illustrates the difficulty in knowing which unlikely stories you're told are fact and which are fiction.
1970s between '75 and '78 - There is a musical play and movie called "South Pacific" that is set in the South Pacific during World War II. In that musical there's a song called "A Cockeyed Optimist". The first line of that song is, "When the sky is a bright canary yellow,". Being born just after World War II, I had heard that song a good many times by the time I was in my late 20s and had never given the slightest credence to the possibility that the sky might be "a bright canary yellow". But when I was in my late 20s, going to the University of California at Riverside, there was a most unusual thing: a hurricane off the southern California coast. One day, I looked out the window of my grad. student office in Sproul Hall at U.C. Riverside and there it was, a bright canary yellow sky. It was a featureless sky, just like a clear blue sky but yellow instead. I suppose that's not an unknown sight for people living in the South Pacific but it was a big surprise for me and I'll never forget that bright yellow sky, just like a canary.
When I was a boy I saw a contestant named Jet Black on some TV show. When I worked at a summer camp for the Campfire Girls one of the counselors was named Kelly Green. Such colorful names!
1971 - I worked at New Hampshire Hospital in 1971. It's a mental hospital with a school of nursing. There were various buildings on the grounds named after various people. I lived in the Walker building at first and later in the Spaulding Building, a dormitory for male nurses. I worked in the Howard Recreation building for four months but later in the Medical and Surgical Building. Everyone called it “M&S”. But it too was named for someone. Officially, it was the Blood Building, named for former N.H. Governor Robert O. Blood. There was a large portrait of Governor Blood hanging in the lobby when I worked there. When another employee first told me about the official name for the building he concluded by saying, “... but we call it M&S. You can imagine how the patients might react if they were told they were going to have surgery in the Blood Building.”
My friend Rick introduced me to a friend of his named Tor. Thinking that it might be Thor, pronounced as a Scandinavian would, I asked him what type of name it was. I expected him to say Norwegian or Swedish. He replied, “It's a joke name.” I indicated that I didn't understand what he meant. He explained, “Well, my last name is Shell and my middle name is Thomas. Thomas is often abbreviated T-H-O-S. So if you put them all together you have Tor Thos. Shell.” Why do parents do things like that to their kids?
1983 - When my younger daughter was born I was in the recovery room at the hospital when I overheard half of a brief phone call. The doctor said, "This is Doctor Shotz. I'm calling for Doctor Ivy. … Can you take a message? ...." How appropriate for doctors to have names like those!
For a short time one could drive west along Interstate-635 (The LBJ Freeway) north of Dallas and pass a big, fire engine red sign saying “Robert H. Dedman Hospital”. I couldn't help but wonder about the possible reluctance of people to go to a hospital named Dedman. But it wasn't long before the red sign was replaced with a green sign that simply said “RHD Memorial Medical Center”. RHD certainly isn't as scary.
1990s – I worked for a fast growing software start up company in North Dallas called Intellection. But as the company grew another, larger company called Intellusion threatened to sue for having a name that could confuse their customers. So Intellection Inc. changed its name to i2 Technologies and grew to be many times as big as Intellusion. The new name was, I believe, chosen so that it wouldn't be similar to any other company's name. But an Internet search revealed the existence of “i2 Group” in Great Britain, now known as the United Kingdom or UK.
Sometime in the late '90s i2 hired a young man whose last name was Nowicki. A few months later another young man was hired whose name was Nowacki. A pretty wacky coincidence if you ask me. I2 also employed the grandson of the famous Texas rancher Charlie Goodnight who shared his last name.
2012 – Late in 1954 my family moved from Hayward to Castro Valley. I was in second grade and my new second grade teacher, for the remaining approximately 6 months, was Mrs. Hicks. In 2012 I met my wife Connie. Her granddaughter Emma and her family happened to live within 5 miles of my house. Emma was in second grade at the time and her teacher was Mrs. Hicks.
2019 – We took Momma Cat, that's her name, to the Corinth Veterinary Clinic. She was seen by Dr. Doolittle, Dr. Denise Doolittle. That's one more “o” than for the man in the movie who talks to the animals but her name is pronounced the same.
1961 to 1987 - Many people have stories of running into people unexpectedly. My brother, who lives in Texas, met a fellow from his work on a beach in Maine. A friend of mine who lives in the Dallas area unexpectedly met her aunt, who lives in Galveston, in New York City when one of them was getting on a bus and the other was getting off. When my first wife and I moved into married student housing at the University of California at Riverside a high school friend that I hadn't seen in 9 years was living with his wife just two doors away. But the following true story is the most unlikely chance encounter in my life.
When I was a freshman in high school I had a friend named Alan. We both had an interest in astronomy and our families each owned a telescope. Additionally, Alan adopted my AM broadcast band listening hobby, DXing it's called, after I told him about it. We would listen to radio stations all over the country, write them a letter saying what we had heard at what date and time as proof that we'd heard them, and in return they would send us the station's QSL card, which we collected like some kids collected baseball cards. Radio stations liked to show advertisers how far away their station could be heard and their station postcard was our reward for letting them know.
After our freshman year in high school, Alan's dad was transferred to Little Rock, Arkansas to manage the Gerber baby food plant there. Alan and I wrote to each other for a while but eventually lost touch. That was 1962 when he moved.
In 1978 I graduated from grad. school and got a job teaching math at the Univ. of Wisc. Stout, in Menomonie, Wisconsin. I shared an office with Dr. Alice Carter. Her husband, David, started working at Stout the second semester. Alice, David, my wife, and I all became good friends. We spent many evenings together eating dinner and playing pinochle, seeing a play at the Mable Tainter Theater in Menomonie, or doing various other things.
One Friday I was walking down the hall in the math department and David passed me going the other direction and called out, "Alice and I are driving in to Minneapolis tomorrow. Texas Instruments is interviewing there and hiring people right on the spot. Do you want to come?" My job was a one year contract with Stout. I had just received an offer from the university for another year at the same meager salary I was currently getting. I thought a new job might be just the thing.
We talked to Texas Instruments the next day and David was offered a job, which he accepted. Alice and I were invited to Dallas for further interviews. TI sent us tickets and we all flew to Dallas. TI said they'd be in touch within two weeks about a job. We flew home and as David drove into the parking lot of my apartment in Menomonie, taking me home, my wife came running up to the car and said, "Marie Osmond just called from Texas Instruments. They want to know how much money you want to come to work there!"
"Marie Osmond?", I asked.
"Oh, not THE Marie Osmond.", she answered.
So when the school year was over, the four of us moved to the Dallas Metroplex. During the interview trip the Carters had bought a house on Pocahontas Rd. in the town of Flower Mound. I had gone apartment hunting, without any luck. There were simply no available apartments in the Lewisville/Flower Mound area where we'd be working. So the Carters very kindly invited me to live with them till I could find an apartment. My wife stayed with a friend in Wisconsin a while and then visited her parents in California and spent only a week or two with the Carters'. While I was there I met the lady and little boy who lived in the house next to Alice and David. Several years later the Carters sold their house and I helped them a little with their move. I remember seeing the neighbor lady again when we picked up some boxes the Carters had stored in her garage for a short time.
It must have been 1986 or 1987 that I got a phone call from my old high school friend Alan. He said that he had gone back to California and tried to look up some friends. He went to my parents' house and my mom recognized him and invited him in. He asked my parents about me and where I lived. They told him that I lived in Texas and he told them that he lived in Texas too. "What part of Texas?", he asked. They told him I lived in the Dallas area. "I live in the Dallas area too.", he said and asked which town. They told him Flower Mound and he told them he lived in Flower Mound too. "Give me Garr's phone number" he said, "and I'll call him when I get home."
In my phone conversation with Alan he asked me how long I'd lived in Flower Mound and I told him I'd lived there about 6 years. I asked how long he'd lived there. He'd lived there 13 years. I said it was funny that in all that time we'd never run into each other. He agreed. Flower Mound is about 10 miles from east to west so I mentioned that I lived in far east Flower Mound, next to the town line. He said he lived in far west Flower Mound. "No wonder we never ran into each other.", I said. "I only know one road in west Flower Mound and that's Pocahontas Road, where I stayed with friends when I first came to Texas."
"Well, I live on Pocahontas Road.", Alan said.
"I stayed in the second house on the left when you turn off the highway.", I told Alan.
"I live in the third house on the left." Alan replied.
So the neighbor lady I'd met was Alan's wife and the little boy was his son. I told Alan and that I'd been in his garage picking up the Carters' boxes.
Alan and I got together for lunch a short time later.
1976 or 7 - There was a two day Lattice Theory conference at the Riverside campus of the University of California. Lattice Theory is a branch of mathematics and the conference was organized by my advisor so I, and his other students, were expected to attend. We'd all had a course on Lattice Theory at a minimum.
One of the presentations was by a professor from the University of Kansas. He and another professor had a counter example to a conjecture some other Lattice Theorist had made but couldn't prove. He started his talk by drawing a lattice on the chalk board and saying, "Let's look at this topological lattice." The lattice was familiar to me since it was the simplest example I knew of a lattice that is NOT topoligical.
Another graduate student was sitting next to me and I leaned over and wispered in his ear, "Joe, that doesn't look like a topological lattice to me. Should we say something?"
Joe whispered back, "I'm not going to."
So I raised my hand and briefly described why his lattice wasn't a topological one. His friend in the audience, who had worked on the counter example and presentation with him, urged him to go on, hoping they could make the example work without it being topological. He did but despite several attempts he just couldn't make his example work and he concluded by saying, "I don't think this is going to work. Why don't we adjourn and take our coffee break a little early."
The coffee and snack break was the next item on the agenda and so we all got up and walked out of the auditorium. As we walked out someone slightly bedind me said, "Well, you've got blood on your hands now, Garr."
In 1982 I was working for Texas Instruments near Dallas as a teacher of computer languages. Ada was the new U.S. Government official computer language. Ada looked like a language we would have to teach our employees, at least in the government contracts division where I worked. So TI sent me and another employee off to learn Ada from the experts in Colorado Springs: Captain Grady Booch and his superior officer, a Major Bowles.
When we took a break for lunch we went to the cafeteria at Peterson Air Force Base and my fellow TIer and I sat down with a young fellow from Hewlett Packard who was in our Ada class. We introduced ourselves, said where we were from and where we had gone to college. When I said that I'd graduated from U.C. Riverside the fellow from HP said that he'd been to Riverside once. He'd gone with his professor to a Lattice Theory conference there. He added that his professor started to present his talk but someone in the audience said something that ruined the talk. I told him, "That was me."
I have had 5 experiences that taught me something about my mind. They range in time from about 1960 to about 62 years later.
1960 or thereabouts - My brother and I took a trip one summer from our home in California to visit my mom's cousin Marilyn and her husband Bill. They lived in Maryland and Bill was a history professor at the Naval Academy in Annapolis. It was the first time we had traveled by ourselves. They showed us a lot of sights including the Naval Academy, the Washington Monument, and George Washington's home at Mount Vernon. We even got some food at McDonald's, which didn't exist in the S.F. Bay Area at the time.
We went to the Smithsonian Museum one day and I started feeling sick while there. At one point I had to sit down outside on a bench, facing one of the Smithsonian buildings, while the others quickly looked at something nearby. It turned out that I had tonsillitis and I must have started running a fairly high fever because I remember that the building in front of me seemed to be drifting to the right. When it had drifted far enough it would go back and start over again. Of course, I knew it wasn't moving but even so I compared it to some nearby bushes that didn't seem to be moving. I could see that the building wasn't moving relative to the bushes but even so, if I just sat back and looked, the building gave the distinct impression of moving and the bushes didn't. I concluded at that point that the impression of movement is separate from the fact of movement.
Sixty-two years later, after two and a half years of isolation with my wife due to the COVID pandemic and other problems, we caught a disease that made us quite dizzy for a few days but with few other symptoms. The first evening with this illness, when I got in bed and put my head down on the pillow I saw the ceiling moving rapidly toward my head and then toward my feet. After a minute or so the dizziness went away and the ceiling stopped “moving”. The next day I thought about the ceiling's “movement” and the only thing I could think of to explain it was that my eyes were moving up and down. That evening when I put my head on my pillow the same thing happened but I tried to force my eyes to look down toward my feet. The ceiling stopped moving and the dizzyness went away soon after.
So now I'm wondering about the “movement” of that building long ago. Were my eyes drifting to the left and then moving back? If so, why didn't the bushes seem to be moving? I don't know.
1971 - This again involved an illness and an impression of movement, of sorts. I was living in the male nurse dormitory at New Hampshire Hospital. I knew I was pretty sick and had asked a friend to look in on me after work. But in the afternoon my fever must have gotten high. I was lying on my stomach on my bed. Suddenly the room around me seemed to be expanding quite quickly. I knew it wasn't but even so it was so disorienting that I put my hands out to either side of the bed and held on for the ride. It only lasted a few minutes. It's odd how in both this and maybe the previous case some sensation can get turned on by a fever when it shouldn't. And it's interesting that the sensation can exist when your eyes can see and you know that it's not so.
1985 - I ruptured a disk in my back and had surgery to repair it in 1985. My health insurance was with Kaiser at the time and they had no one to do the needed surgery so they referred me to the best back surgeon they could find in the DFW Metroplex, Dr. Vernon Mooney at U.T. Southwestern Medical Center. Besides rupturing the lumbar 4-5 disk I had injured the lumbar 3-4 disk and it was bulging. The operation was something rather new at the time. Dr. Mooney inserted a very long, hollow needle through my side into the disks and a pump sucked out some of the jell that normally fills the disks. This had the effect of pulling the walls of the ruptured disk back together so they could heal in place and of reducing the bulge in the other disk. Dr. Mooney told me how the disks would reinflate over the next several months.
I was given some medication for pain but I was completely awake through the whole procedure. Dr. Mooney had a fluoroscope to guide his placement of the needle into the disks. He put the needle into the ruptured disk and pumped out some jell. But when he tried to put the needle into the second disk he hit the bone instead. The experience was very painful and very interesting. I knew intellectually that I was experiencing intense pain and I didn't like it at all. But I didn't jerk in reaction to the sudden pain and there was no agony associated with it. I asked, "Is that going to happen again?" Dr. Mooney calmly replied, "Every time I miss." But he didn't miss again. So I learned that there are different parts of pain and it's possible to turn off one part without turning off another.
2000 or so - I had an infection that was very hard to treat. After prescribing a couple of antibiotics in the Cipro family that had unpleasant side effects, my doctor prescribed a 10 week course of Tequin, also in the Cipro family. That made me feel bad too but I figured I couldn't go on trying different things forever so I just took it. Besides making me feel bad it had a couple of interesting side effects. After about 5 weeks of Tequin I had a week where I had approximately five strange experiences. They felt like a wave was breaking from left to right over my brain and, for 4 or 5 seconds, I experienced the most intense sadness I have ever felt. I knew it was the medicine so part of my mind just observed the experience while the rest of me felt intensely sad. Then it was gone till the next time. After that week it stopped. I felt so bad after 9 weeks of the Tequin that I stopped with the hope that 9 weeks was enough to cure the disease and in fact it was. Several weeks later I had another week of waves breaking over my brain, again from the left to the right. The only difference was that rather than intense sadness it was intense hopelessness. The intensity of these feelings is something I can't describe except to say that I now understand why people would wish to kill themselves if the feeling were prolonged rather than lasting just a few seconds
One other side effect from my Tequin was that my short term memory didn't work right for the next nine months. In meetings at work I frequently couldn't remember the beginning of a speaker's sentence by the time he got to the end. I would fall asleep sometimes. At home, I had what is called an RSA device for logging in to my work computer from my home computer. The device displays a new 6 digit number each minute and during that minute I needed to copy the number to my computer. For the 9 months I needed to give myself the full minute if I were to have any hope of copying the number correctly before it changed. I just couldn't remember more than three digits at a time and even three was more than I could be sure of getting right. My insights from Tequin are why some people might want to kill themselves and what it's like to have a mind that can't do simple things. Fortunately the computer code I wrote for my work during that time was never used.
2011 or so - I was taking a new route to work one morning and driving past woods and an occasional business. It was almost dawn and as I passed a building and the parking lot next to it something changed. My eyes turned to the parking lot and building and I saw the lights shining in the parking lot for a moment and then they went off. That's apparently what had caught my eye. But, of course, that really doesn't make sense. If the lights going off was what caught my attention I couldn't have turned my eyes and then seen them still on for a moment. They were already off. So for quite a while I figured that my brain had created an illusion of the lights being on so that my conscious mind could observe the scene and know what it was that had attracted my attention. I'm not so sure now.
I have since noticed something else that is interesting that offers an alternate explanation. When there is a sudden, reasonably loud, and unexpected sound I have what I would call a startle reaction. Even if I don't physically jump, my mind does. My attention becomes focused on my hearing. The interesting thing is that the mental jump and the increased focus actually occur just before I hear anything, that is, before I consciously experience the sound. That makes me wonder if the startle reaction to sound and the grabbing of my attention by a visual change are simple, quick responses and the conscious experience of seeing or hearing is delayed just a split second, maybe because the mental processing for a conscious experience is more complex. Also, in the case of the parking lot lights, the low resolution peripheral vision image was enhanced to make it seem that it was what I had been looking at all the time. I don't know how this all works but it sure would be interesting to find out more about the subject. So I guess all I've learned from this is that I could stand to learn a little more about how the mind reacts to things that suddenly catch one's attention.
THE BURNING BUSH
2003 - In early 2003 I went to Bangalore, India, or “Bangaluru” in the local Kannada language. I was there for 3 weeks on a business trip and I gather that it's customary when a friend and coworker comes from another country to organize a "trek", which is what was done for me. So one weekend my coworkers there organized a trip to Savandurga, the largest rock dome in Asia. It's about 40 miles west of Bangalore. Though some faces of the rock are nearly vertical, there is a route up the northeastern end of the rock that is a relatively easy climb. When we got there we saw a stream of other people going up and coming back down so the route was obvious.
Though it's not a hard climb it is a long climb and we stopped at various points along the way to rest. At one of the first walls from which the Indians successfully resisted the British, we sat down for a bit. Looking around, I noticed a little depression in the rock where dirt had collected and weeds had grown. They were all dead and burnt to within about an inch of the dirt. I thought that was strange since there weren't enough weeds to make such a fire sufficient for warmth. As we went on I saw a few other places where small clusters of weeds had been burnt. I couldn't imagine why.
Our trip had been planned to avoid the heat of the day but my friends mostly operated on what they jokingly call "India Standard Time". In other words, they are late for everything. So, despite a plan to get there early, we arrived at Savandurga just as the day was starting to heat up. Though it was winter, I was told that the high for the day was about 90 degrees Fahrenheit.
I was about 20 to 25 years older than my friends and so I was trying to set a good pace for myself. I didn't want them to think I was an old man. As we walked on a trail across the top of Savandurga I was in the lead. The top isn't just a bare rock surface. There are large rocks ten to thirty feet across, trees and plants in deposits of dirt, and the ruins of a couple buildings on the top. At one point I was walking past some rocks and weeds. Nothing I saw in the area was burnt. When I was maybe 15 feet past the weeds I heard some crackling behind me and the fellow who was about that far behind me said in an astonished voice, "It's on fire!" I turned around and the weeds I had passed a moment before were now on fire. I had my camera with me and took a picture, which I still have.
We walked to a little shrine to Shiva at the southwest end of Savandurga, looked over the southeast edge to the village below where our bus was parked, took some pictures, and then headed back. Several enterprising teenagers were there at the bottom waiting for thirsty people to come back down. Over the racks on the backs of their bicycles they had branches with coconuts. For a small price we each bought one which, upon purchase, had a hole made in one of the 3 spots at the end and a straw inserted. The coconut milk was just the thing to cool off with after the hike.
As I sat in the shade, drinking from my coconut, I noticed a couple small white columns of smoke rising from different spots on Savandurga. One of them was from a flaw in the otherwise smooth, vertical southeastern face where nobody could climb. So the burning weeds I photographed were not the only ones to spontaneously catch fire that day. I'd always been impressed by Moses encountering a burning bush but I realized that day that there's nothing supernatural about a burning bush. Of course, my burning weeds didn't talk to me. Moses is definitely one up on me in that respect.
I have tried to find out what the name of the weed is that I encountered on Savandurga and that catches fire at about 90 degrees. To my astonishment, of all the Indian people I have asked only one had ever heard of it. He knew the local name for the weed but I'm sorry to say that I have lost it. I did a search on the Internet and found that several plants are known to spontaneously combust at moderate temperatures. So my experience obviously isn't that extraordinary in some parts of the world. It just seems extraordinary to an American like me.
STREET LIGHTS and SHOE LACES
1990 or thereabouts - This is a case of something that, in itself, isn't odd. The odd thing was the frequency and exclusiveness with which it happened. It happened during a time of great stress and worry in my life. During this time, when I was driving my car in the evening or at night, a street light would go off as I approached or as I passed under it. It was always the next one I would pass or the one I was currently under. Of course, when I was passing under a light and it went off I wouldn't be able to see the light but my surroundings would suddenly get dark. I think that's what first drew my attention to what was happening, repeatedly seeing my surroundings get dark.
I don't know how many times a street light went out like this but I'm pretty confident it was more than 50 times and probably not more than 100 times over the course of 12 to 18 months. Also, it was only one light per trip that would go out, with only one or two exceptions when there were two. During this time I drove two different cars and it happened with both. It also happened once when I was walking. It was not the same light each time. My impression is that it was never the same light twice, but I can't guarantee that that's true.
I told a couple of people about these odd occurrences with street lights. There was a friend at the Unitarian church I was attending in those days. She said she had something similar happen to her at times when she was in very good spirits. So she didn't think it was all that odd. I also told my older daughter before we took an evening drive one time. When a street light went off a short distance in front of the car she turned to me and said, "Dad, you're a witch." So she had the opposite opinion, just as I did, that this was pretty odd.
I also had a funny thing happen with my shoe laces. It's not uncommon for my laces to stay tied all day and it's not uncommon for them to come untied once or twice in a day. But for a period of several months they started coming untied many, many times a day. It became quite a nuisance to constantly have to retie my laces over and over again each day.
A person might reasonably suspect that there was something wrong with the laces or the pair of shoes but at the time I had a pair of leather shoes that I wore to work and a pair of tennis shoes that I wore at other times. Both pair had the same problem during this time. One pair of laces wore through from the constant retying and I replaced them. The new laces behaved just as the old ones had done, coming untied many times a day. I tried pulling the bow extra tight but that did no good. I then tried tying a knot in the bow loops. That reduced the number of times I had to retie the shoes but they came untied a lot anyway.
Then one day the shoes, both pair, stopped coming untied all the time. I was wearing the same shoes with the same laces that had been coming untied constantly but suddenly they didn't and they haven't since. I can't imagine what would cause such a silly and inconvenient thing to happen with my shoe laces. Could I have been walking oddly for a while? I don't know.
Coincidences happen all the time. Just this past week a couple have come to my attention. One little one that is of no consequence happened yesterday as my wife Connie and I were watching the 1992 movie “Sister Act”. Whoopi Goldberg's character, Deloris, is at a roulette game in a casino and a man next to her, thinking that she is a nun and assuming she may have some divine knowledge, asks her what the next winning number is. She gets it wrong but it's a small coincidence that the actual winner was red fourteen. That's the same winner I correctly predicted as described above.
Another little coincidence but of great consequence for my family has to do with some family members. They were living in Kyiv, Ukraine but came back to Dallas for a wedding. The wedding took place on 2/20/2022, which when you say it sounds like a palindrome: 2-20-20-20-2. They were here for the wedding when Russia invaded Ukraine, a few days after the wedding. The timing for them to happen to be safe here in Texas during the war is certainly a fortunate coincidence.
That's all the strange things that have happened to me that I can recall. I suppose that a certain number of coincidences are bound to happen to anyone. There are so many amazing, imaginable coincidences around us all the time that don't happen that maybe the odds are very good that once in a while an amazing one or two of them actually will happen. It makes me think of a seemingly amazing happening that really wasn't.
I knew a boy named Mike who had a “card trick”. He would show it to everyone he knew. He'd take a deck of cards, ask you to pick a card, look at it, and put it back in the deck without telling him which card it was. Then he would shuffle the deck very well and ask you to cut the deck and turn over the top card. Then he'd tell you that that was your card. In reality there was no trick but he knew he had a one in fifty-two chance of the card being the correct one. So he kept trying it with different people and when he was wrong he'd just say that he must have done something wrong and then he'd change the topic. But when Mike showed his trick to his father it was the one time in fifty-two that the top card was the card his father had picked out of the deck. His father was totally amazed. He couldn't understand how Mike had done it and Mike wouldn't tell him. But it was a simple matter of odds and coincidence, nothing extraordinary at all.